More hunters will be setting their sights on cow moose around Fairbanks this season.
Not only did the Alaska Board of Game approve on Friday another big antlerless moose hunt in Game Management Unit 20A this fall on the Tanana Flats south of town, the board also approved new cow hunts in Unit 20B surrounding Fairbanks and in part of Unit 20D southwest of Delta Junction.
The two new hunts allow the state Department of Fish and Game to distribute up to 500 drawing permits for antlerless moose--up to 300 in the 20B hunt and up to 200 in the 20D hunt--though game managers say it's unlikely that number of permits will be issued this year.
Those hunts sandwich what is already the state's largest antlerless moose hunt, a registration permit hunt in Unit 20A that has produced a harvest of almost 1,300 cows and calves the past two years.
Fish and Game wildlife biologist Don Young presented the state's case for continuing a high cow harvest in Unit 20A while instituting a smaller one in Unit 20B to the Game Board on Day 8 of an 11-day meeting at the Princess Hotel.
The moose populations in both units, especially 20A, are too high and need to be reduced, the biologist said. Using statistics-filled graphs and charts, Young documented the population growth in both areas and the estimated 150 moose killed on Fairbanks roads in Unit 20B each year.
"In these areas where we're proposing hunts are areas we've seen increasing moose populations and we want to take advantage of that by making sure the populations don't grow too big too fast while at the same time providing hunting opportunity," he said.
While the Unit 20A antlerless hunt has been controversial for a variety of reasons, ranging from hunter conflicts to philosophical arguments, the hunt has also been immensely popular, Young said. More than 2,000 hunters have participated each of the past two years and the hunt has provided for 15 to 20 percent of the state's entire moose harvest.
Even after two high cow harvests, the 20A moose population is about 17,000, well above the management objective of 10,000 to 12,000.
The board was swayed by Young's presentation, passing the antlerless hunts in 20A and 20B with little discussion or debate.
"It follows my biological sense of antlerless moose--you harvest them when the populations are increasing and leave them alone when they're decreasing," said board member Ted Spraker, a retired state wildlife biologist. "We're still over the population objective and we're still under the harvest objective."
Young estimated 100 to 200 antlerless permits would be issued for Unit 20B, which encompasses much of the road system for a 50-mile radius around Fairbanks. The estimated moose population in Unit 20B is about 7,000, Young said. Assuming a success rate of 50 percent, it would mean a harvest of 50 to 100 moose.
As for the Unit 20A antlerless hunt, the state will be shooting for another harvest in the 600 to 800 range, Young said. However, there will be changes made to the Unit 20A cow hunt to further address conflicts between hunters and local residents, as well as to increase harvest in some areas.
The hunt will be split into the same seven zones it has been the past two years. But different zones will have different season dates and restrictions, depending on hunting pressure, access and the harvest quota for the unit.
The season in some areas will open Aug. 25 and in others it will open Oct. 5 to avoid competition with other hunters during the general season. The season will remain open until Feb. 28 or when the harvest quota is reached. The season previously ran from Sept. 1 to Dec. 10.
The longer season will allow hunters on snowmachines to access remote areas they couldn't get to previously because rivers didn't freeze until after the season closed.
One of the areas, Zone 1 near Anderson, will be converted to a limited registration hunt to control hunting pressure. And a portion of the unit will be closed to all hunting to prevent conflicts with residents in Ferry, a community located about 10 miles off the Parks Highway.
Zone 3 around Healy will be converted to an archery-only hunt in another attempt to reduce hunting pressure and conflicts with locals.
The board offered hunters a better shot at bagging a bull in Unit 20A this season, approving a special drawing permit hunt for "any bull" with up to 300 permits distributed. The permits would be issued according to moose densities using the same zones used in the Unit 20A antlerless hunt.
Bull-to-cow ratios have increased significantly in the four years since the state imposed antler restrictions in the unit and the bull population is large enough to support a small "any bull" harvest, Young said.
The Game Board spent considerable time debating how many permits the department should be allowed to issue the cow hunt in Unit 20D southwest of Delta Junction.
The original proposal for the Unit 20D hunt, submitted by the Delta Advisory Committee, called for a maximum of 20 permits to be issued. At the urging of DuBois, who says the hunt could support a much larger cow harvest, the advisory committee agreed to bump it up to 75 permits.
But the board, despite pleas from Fish and Game staff to honor the advisory committee's request, increased the limit to 200, though it's ultimately up to the department how many permits are issued.
If there are surplus moose to harvest, the state owes it to hunters to make them available, said board member Cliff Judkins of Wasilla.
"A lot of people in Alaska are having a hard time finding moose because they can't get to where they are," Judkins said. "There's moose in this area, there's public lands in this area. ... There comes a point in time where you've got to respect the rest of the state's right to hunt."
Judkins noted that while the Delta committee was reluctant to endorse a cow hunt in an area with too many moose, it had asked for a wolf-control program in another area to boost moose and caribou population.
"They want wolf control and you've got too many moose," he said. "I'm confused."
DuBois replied that some members of the advisory committee were "philosophically opposed to the concept of cow hunts." At the same time, he acknowledged the whole point of intensive management is to maximize population and harvest objectives.
"We have an opportunity to increase harvest by taking cows and addressing this high density situation," he said.
DuBois anticipates only about 30 permits being issued for the hunt this year.
The Game Board also voted to allow a limited cow moose harvest in a youth drawing permit hunt on the Delta Bison Range. Permit holders will now be allowed to harvest either a cow moose or a bull with spike-fork or 50-inch antlers or a bull with four brow tines on one side.
The state also provided more opportunity for bow hunters in the Fairbanks Management Area by expanding the archery season from Sept. 1 to Nov. 27 instead of having a split season of Sept. 1-30 and Nov. 21-27.
News-Miner staff writer Tim Mowry can be reached at 459-7587 or email@example.com .